2009 was both a revelation and a revolution in the field of Electronic Gaming.
2008 ended with the gaming industry hanging on a gigantic question mark: How would gaming be affected by the sudden downturn in the economy?
Everyone knew something would happen, but no one could have predicted such a mixed bag of results: In January Microsoft shut down its ACES Studios (responsible for their most successful in-house property Microsoft Flight Simulator), that same month Ensemble Studios (makers of the Age of Empires series) shut its doors, and the struggling economy finally forced Sony’s hand on a long-awaited PS3 price drop.
The latter of these, although obviously a boon for Sony itself, also reignited slumping sales for both the X-box 360 and Wii (who responded with price-drops of their own), and breathed new life into game sales across the board. The word was out: Recession-be-damned gamers were willing to buy as long as they got whatever they bought on sale.
This is the story of the games people were buying those systems for.
*GAME OF THE YEAR*
This ain’t the VGA’s on GTV… This is the TEAM RAINLESS award for electronic excellence. This isn’t based on who sold the most units or how well-liked a franchise is. I’m awarding the OCF Game of the Year based purely on merit. That said… you’re not going to see Modern Warfare 2 on this list. You don’t make a list based on merit by peeing all over the customers that brought you to the dance just because you’re going to make a billion dollars anyway. More than that: I didn’t even think Modern Warfare 2 was a better game than Modern Warfare 1. (Although not posted, I did name it the Xbox 360 Game of the Year… because I don’t actually HAVE a 360 anymore, it was the only 360 game I played this year, and I managed to go through the whole thing in five hours straight at Best Buy… on the 360). I didn’t include games that failed, in some way, to do what they set out to do. So Killzone 2 didn’t make the list because an online FPS that’s released in 2009 without a party system (when even games like GTAIV and Uncharted 2 have them) is inexcusable. Street Fighter IV doesn’t make the list because the whole purpose of a fighting game is to fight people, and you can’t fight people if you can’t even connect to them. (And they have no excuse because Street Fighter’s had better matchmaking since SF2: Turbo was released on Xbox Live Marketplace almost two years ago).
Nobody on my list made it by resting on their laurels. The developers I nominated BUSTED THEIR ASSES to make these games. And when they were finished and polished and playable from beginning to end… they KEPT busting their asses and made the game even BETTER. They added extras and unlockables or released betas and expanded and built-on what they already had to make a Game of the Year a solid contender for Best Game of All Time.
So keep that in mind when you’re looking over this list. (And I’ve already had and beaten down every argument for and against every game that did and didn’t make it onto the list… so keep that in mind as well.)
CONSOLE GAME OF THE YEAR
I’m really disappointed that Street Fighter IV isn’t in this spot of the nominations, but Capcom only have themselves to blame. Sitting in a lobby “JOIN GAME/COULD NOT CONNECT”ing is just no fun. Enter BlazBlue. If BlazBlue didn’t succeed at everything then it was only because it dared to do so much. A fighting game with TRULY unique characters, robust online multiplayer options, a steep learning curve for even the most skilled aficionados, and bedazzling rewards for anyone who dug deep enough to find them, BlazBlue came out of nowhere to steal the crown of 2009’s unprecedented field of pretenders.
Naughty Dog is not in the business of making bad games. So, quite naturally, everyone expected the sequel to its flagship title to be good. As screen shots and videos began to leak all over the internet, however, it became apparent that no one could have predicted how far they would go. What gamers wound up with was a product of unprecedented beauty and style that didn’t take itself too seriously, but set out to make a statement on, not what everyone expected the industry to be, but what thought, effort and imagination COULD make it.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
The 2000’s were a decade of disaster for the Caped Crusader. Alfred was murdered, Bruce Wayne’s dead, and almost more bad Batman games were produced than bad Dragon Ball Z games. Quite naturally, when Arkham Asylum was first announced, nobody gave it a first… let alone a second thought. The marketing team must’ve worked overtime trying to change that image… Months before the release people were finally excited about a Batman game again. The first eye-opener was that it would NOT be based on a Batman movie. Next came the news that the award-winning cast of Batman: The Animated Series (including Mark Skywalker as The Joker) would be filling-out the voice work. Then the screenshots! Was this really happening? The video raised a few doubts when Batman appeared to be moving more like Tinman… but all haters were silenced by the time the game was released. Miracle of Miracles: The new Batman game wasn’t just good… it was GREAT.
Winner: BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM
It came out late. You know what? I wish MORE games would come out late. I would rather have a game come out late… and get it right… than be released too early and screw it all up (are you listening Gran Turismo 5 developers). Without many frills and without any fuss Arkham Asylum set out to do something and succeeded in doing it with aplomb. There’s no half-ass multi-player tacked on (with say four Batmen versus six Jokers), no RPG element (though there is a silly “skill expansion” thing), Batman either goes back to the Batcave and gets what he needs or pulls it off of his utility belt. The style, the atmosphere, the combat system, and the performances all came together. Were the production values as high as Uncharted 2? No they were not. Did it have the play time of Dragon Age: Origins? No it did not. But it wasn’t trying to be either of those games. It didn’t try to be anything. But, by mixing stealth, adventure, and brawler elements, what they managed to do was create a brand new genre (and a rock solid Batman adventure) out of thin air. Part Metal Gear, part Tomb Raider, part Final Fight, and even part Uncharted… Batman blended the best available gaming elements into 2009’s Game of the Year.
PC Game of the Year
Winner: Dragon Age Origins
2009 will NOT go down as the greatest year in PC gaming history. Half of the PC software developers went out of business, and most of the other half started focusing mainly on console games (your PC game using “GameSpy” for multi-player is NOT a good sign). Ports abounded this year. But… as they’ve said themselves… Bioware doesn’t do ports. What Bioware does is kickass and take names. And thank goodness they made enough money off of Baldur’s Gate to still be in business today. Dragon Age Origins pimp-slapped every other PC game that came out this year. (I’m looking at YOU Borderlands and Left 4 Dead 2.) They did away with the Dungeons and Dragons system and jacked up the story and graphics to deliver another Bioware classic. Any year these guys are putting out a game, the competition can just forget about it.
Portable Game of the Year
Winner: Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes
I knew this would be the hardest award to dish out in a year that also featured Zelda: Spirit Tracks, Dissidia: Final Fantasy, and Phantasy Star Zero (as well as GTA: Chinatown Wars as an Honorable Mention). But if you want to know what took me so long to finish writing this article: I couldn’t STOP playing Clash of Heroes. The storyline was deceptively simple, and as it evolved you found yourself trapped by the addictive quality of the battle sequences. You think you’re only playing for a few minutes, but by then DAYS have gone by here in the real world. Part Final Fantasy: Tactics and part Columns Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes replicated Arkham Asylum’s feat of creating an entirely new kind of game and executing it flawlessly. We’re talking about no bugs… no patches… just a solid and polished experience, a memorable story and cast of characters, and a team I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of in the future.